An article yesterday incorrectly reported details of the Maryland State Board of Education's plan to help failing students. The story should have said that eighth-graders who fail math or reading would be required to go to summer school. (Published 10/29/1999)
Maryland education officials today approved a program requiring schools to provide intensive tutoring or after-hours classes for every child who is falling behind.
Though it stops short of requiring schools to hold back lagging students, the state Board of Education plan was hailed as a "major culture change" that imposes a new structure of mandatory and early remedial work for the illiterate or unskilled pupils who sometimes have been allowed to drift through the system.
The board backed away from an earlier plan to require summer school for all eighth-graders who can't read or do math on a par with their peers. One prominent school advocate warned the new program won't do enough to prepare Maryland's poorest students to pass tough new statewide diploma tests.
School district representatives, while praising the plan, questioned whether the state can fund the full $49 million cost and worried that they might be stuck with a bill.
Funding for the program, which is scheduled to start next school year, remains murky. Board officials said they may be able to draw some from the $328 million in federal and state money already earmarked to help low-income and struggling students.
Board members acknowledged that they will have to lobby hard to get most of the funding from Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and the General Assembly. But they maintained that these support programs are essential for preparing schools and students for the graduation tests, which will be required for every class starting with 2005, and threatened to cancel the tests if their plan goes unfunded.
Today, educators said that they need to start working with children as early as first or second grade if students are going to be able to pass the high school tests and go on to compete in the workplace.
"There has to be a judgment made as to whether a child is meeting standards in reading and math," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy and a member of the task force that created the plan. "There has to be an intervention to get that child up to speed."
The new plan will require school systems to measure students' progress against state expectations of what they should know by third, fifth and eighth grade. If they are falling short, students will have to attend after-school, weekend or summer remedial classes.
Virginia and the District have taken similar steps. In Virginia, some school districts are considering whether to hold back students who flunk the state's new Standards of Learning tests in elementary or middle school; by 2004, all students will have to pass to graduate. Last year, the District launched Saturday and summer academies for students who score poorly on standardized tests, though school officials cannot require them to attend.
The Maryland program also requires that school systems provide mentors for beginning teachers, that future high school teachers complete a major in the subject they teach and that teachers with temporary licenses gain full certification within two years.
It also earmarks about $4 million to improve early childhood education--as early as birth--with programs instructing new parents about literacy and child development, and financial incentives to day-care and preschool programs that try to prepare children for school with intellectually stimulating activities.
But the state board dropped an earlier plan to require eighth-graders to attend summer school if they don't read or do math at grade level and to hold them back from high school if they don't pass their summer courses.
Instead, the board decided to leave summer school as an option for local school districts and said that failing eighth-graders could be placed in remedial high school classes. Officials cited the potential cost of summer and alternative schools and the rights of local school districts.
Kalman R. Hettleman, a former secretary of human resources and Baltimore school board member who served on the task force, said the plan offers too little too late.
"They should be mandating summer school for first-graders. Why wait for eighth grade?" he said. "You need a promotion-retention strategy at each grade."
Eric B. Schwartz, a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, called it "a wonderful plan," but he questioned whether the state can finance it at a time when the governor and education officials are requesting several other costly education initiatives--mentors, scholarships, smaller classes.
A spokesman for the governor said he is reviewing budget proposals and has not made any decisions about the program.
State board members today also approved a policy promising public school students protection from harassment. To the dismay of gay rights advocates, however, they rejected a move to include language specifically condemning anti-gay harassment, and instead simply pledged support of "all students."